Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Munnar road trip in an old Scorpio

This is a story of my 1500 km weekend drive in a 7 year old Mahindra Scorpio to Munnar.

Munnar was on my hit list since long. It is a popular hill station in Kerala, close to TN border. Having covered Wayanad, Ooty, Valparai, Yercaud, Kolli hills, Yelarigi and other hill stations, Munnar was kept pending for long. It was about 6 months since my last long drive (Chikmagalur in an Innova) and I freezed in on Munnar for the next drive. A total of 7 people signed up, 4 from Blr and 3 from Chennai- friends and family. Plan was that I’d rent a vehicle in Chennai, drive down to Salem. Bangalore team will arrive in Salem by train and will join us there, we’ll head to Munnar together from Salem. Munnar is 600+ kms from Chennai (little more as we took a slight detour to go into Salem) and the weekend is all we had. So it had to be from Friday night till Monday morning.

My proffered vendor for Self drive vehicles is Avis- though a bit expensive, they have good condition cars and are fairly reliable and have easy process. However, for the dates I wanted, Avis declined the self drive booking request, citing non availability of the vehicle. I then had to fall back on alternate vendors in Chennai. After some scrutiny, zeroed in on Smile cars, mainly because a colleague had rented from them a few times and was happy with the service. Another reason was unlimited kms clause in exchange of extra rentals.

I booked an innova with Smile cars.

On the D-Day, vendor offered to send a Scorpio instead. This kind of replacement is common because vendors won't have full control on when exactly vehicles will return from their previous rentals. But some vendors always try to give not so good vehicles, hoping to use better vehicles for some other lucrative deals. Upon enquiry he said it is a 2008 model, its suspension have been reworked and it is in good condition for long drives. Had taken a brand new Scorpio VLs to Wayanad in 2008 and it was fun. I had no dislike for Scorpios and hence didn’t mind taking the Scorpio instead of Innova. Vehicle was delivered spot on time, but the first look was not really impressive, to say the least. The car was visibly old, with a missing fog lamp, broken sky rack and very old seats and interiors. This was a big disappointment and I had to curse myself for not cross checking enough when offered replacement. At this point, I could have insisted a replacement. Subject to availability, it would have delayed our departure by 2-3 hours or more. I opted to settle for the not so good Scorpio and begin on our Munnar trip. 
In Top gear, Jeremy and his peers occasionally go on special missions- take some age old car and go on some kind of adventure trip-to check how far they can go or how strong they are etc. My situation was something similar, only that I had no crew in Range rover to follow me.

Mirror Mirror, where are you?
This first issue with the vehicle was not having a central rear view mirror. It was broken and the agency never bothered to replace it. I had to rely on two external rear view mirrors for visibility. I added a makeshift mirror to compensate for the missing mirror, It wasn’t perfect, but served the purpose to some extent. Refer image below 
(For our Coorg trip in 2010, Avis gave an Endeavor without its turn indicators working. Indicator is a mandatory equipment, so I had to ditch ford and settle with an Innova)

Sky rack
One of the sky racks of the vehicle had come off. It was very light weight and looked like a cheap after market fix affixed with glue. Notice the solo skyrack in the image below. The other one was put inside the vehicle, which I kept at home before leaving to Munnar

High Beam=Low Beam=little beam
The vehicle was fitted with a mighty looking crash guard at the front. It added to safety for sure. I don’t know to what extent it added to the looks, but this one caused a considerable damage to the lighting. The steel crash guard was positioned very close to head lamps and it was deflecting beams coming out of headlights into all directions, thus compromising on visibility. The illumination was almost same irrespective of high beam or low beam.  However, the light, despite heavy dilution, was just enough for decent cruise.
Bare minimum: Being first generation Scorpio, we could see that the vehicle lacked several features now deemed standard. Notice the image. There’s no power window, No power mirrors, no internal adjustment of mirror positioning, no cup holders in the door- it’s all back to basics

Vehicle had an overdose of speakers all around, but the music system had no USB. No line in, no blue tooth. We had no CDs and we couldn’t catch any FM station signals. Thus playing songs out of mobile phones was our entertainment during the drive. The side facing seats in last row meant no back support.

Scorpio is a legendary SUV but this particular one had its own issues, which were uncovered over the course of our trip. We left Chennai by about 8PM and headed towards Salem on GST road. Some 330 kms of highway driving was ahead of me. Coupled with night time and rains, I managed a decent speed of 80kmph, with occasional cruise of 100-110kmph to reach Salem by 2.30AM. There was a slight water seepage problem around the A/C vents- not sure if it is rain water seeping in or A/C malfunctioning.  The scorpio had an older 2.6 litre CRDe engine which had lesser power output and pickup compared to today’s 2.2 mHawk engines. Nevertheless, engine was running very well, despite its age.  Engine never gave up- during uphill drives, overtaking or on highways. No complaints on that department, though I could have enjoyed a slightly better pickup. (The older Ford Endeavor which we'd taken to Kolli hills had a poor engine which refused to go beyond 120 kmph)

As we started our uphill drive to Munnar, the horn stopped working. I started wondering if I had to repeat the mirror exercise here, attaching an external horn and blowing it by hand. Driving uphill without a horn meant I had to be extremely cautious of oncoming traffic. I managed by tailing other vehicles. Once in Munnar we got the horn fixed- loose connection or something.
Day 2 early morning, I had a fear that engine might not start. In cold weather conditions, old engines fail to start at times. (We were stranded at Horsley Hills once with an Indica). But to my delight, Scorpio didn’t have any starting trouble and roared to life with just one twist of ignition key.

Insurance? What insurance?
Once back in Chennai, I checked the papers of the vehicle and realized that its insurance had expired on 30th august, 1 week earlier. If there was a check, I would have ended up paying a fine.

For the 1500 km trip, Scorpio drank Rs 5800 worth of diesel- approx 129 litres. Discounting a litre or two still left in the tank, it averages at around 12 kmpl overall. (The 2008 Scorpio Vls had given me about 13kmpl back in 2008).

Managed to get a small discount from the rental agency upon complaining about poor state of the vehicle.

Disclaimer: This is not a criticism of Mahindra Scorpio. it is a great breed, just that this particular vehicle wasn't maintained well by its owners. I am just sharing my experience of driving this vehicle during our road trip. Over years Mahindra has enhanced scoprio considerably and current day version has lot more power, better looks and features.

Also read: 
Ford Endeavor 2.5 XLT (2nd Generation) * Wayanad in Scorpio * Tata Aria * Innova vs Xylo (2009) *

More about Munnar trip in subsequent posts


magiceye said...

Loved your review!

amit ganguly said...

Nice post.Your analysis of Scorpio is informative.

Sabyasachi Patra | Tales from Wild India said...

Nice to hear that you drove down to Munnar. There is lot of crowd in Munnar during festival and holiday seasons. Did you go on any treks nearby?

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Deepak: Thnks

Amit: Thanks

Sabyasachi: No, we didn't have time to trek- just drove around

D.Nambiar said...

Good one yeah, Shrinidhi. This way people know what to look out for when renting vehicles.
The no-rear view mirror situation must have been so annoying!

I love the crash-guard idea; good for a trip to a hill station.

What places did you see in Munnar? There's a post on the way, I hope.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

We covered regular tourist spots- top station, tea museum, view points, falls etc. More about that later

indiamap said...

Scorpio is the King of Jungle.

Shrinidhi Hande said...


The wild said...

Pathetic rental car i must say ,things like horn missing is surprising but light being defelected and no rear mirror inside is absolutely shocking!.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Horn wasn't missing- stopped working on the way and was fixed.

well, people used to drive cars without power steering, with pump brakes and sans several technologies we consider standard today

Munnar Holiday Packages said...

Your article was very informative to me....

Kerala Honeymoon said...

Munnar is one of the best tourist destination in Kerala. Especially for honeymooners